Tuesday 2 December 2014

America's Number Two

The wrestling landscape in North America has changed a fair bit since the beginning of the year and it's going to continue changing for a while yet. The disappearance of TNA from Spike, the debut of Lucha Underground, and the charismatic enigma that is Global Force Wrestling have had and will have their parts to play. The only constant has been WWE at the top of the pile. That's unlikely to change. No wrestling company, established or entirely new, can come close to touching WWE. They have access to the biggest names, they have the most hours of TV exposure, they run multiple events per week, and they have their own online streaming service. They even have a mostly autonomous satellite group that operates on a similar scale to most of the "competition".

Most importantly WWE simply is wrestling to the average guy or gal on the street. It would take a colossal external effort and a series of massive blunders for WWE to be toppled.

Can these guys help TNA remain relevant?
Until recently the consensus number two promotion North America had was TNA.  Their Spike TV deal not being renewed has been cited as the main reason this is no longer considered to be the case. Personally I've always felt uncomfortable with TNA having this status. They've had it by default really, due to their access to ex-WWE guys (looking for a payday) and being on a TV channel accessible in more North American homes than any other wrestling company save WWE. It all stems from the initial choice the company made to use ex-WWE and -WCW guys prominently.

TNA has certainly never been an alternative though, and that what I feel a number two company should at least in part strive to be. I've always felt that Ring of Honor are more deserving of being at least a spiritual number two due to their markedly different presentation and the rarity of former WWE (and to a lesser extent, TNA) employees on their roster. That lack of famous names has hurt their general perception though, as has their lesser degree of availability. Since 2002, the year both ROH and TNA were founded, ROH have been pegged as Americas number three. Had ROH done the same as TNA and used some of the readily available big names when they were running their first shows they may have been considered a bigger deal across the following decade.

ROH has always tended  to run shows more regularly than TNA, especially over the last few years. And for the most part those shows have drawn bigger audiences, indicating that they actually have a greater following. They were also a profitable entity for far longer than TNA was. I'm not sure how they're fairing under current owners SBG but before the buyout ROH operated at some sort of profit as they were able to stay in business. TNA has famously been losing money, practically since the day it was formed.

TNA's move to Destination America has forced a change of this perception. Ring of Honor is now more readily available in a larger number of US and Canadian homes. They will continue to run shows more frequently. They have a return to televised pay-per-view announced (it’s entirely possible that TNA won’t produce pay-per-views at all once they debut on Destination America). I also think ROH have made progress at closing the gap in name recognition between themselves and TNA. Over the last two years they’ve made decisions designed to make more people aware of their existence, from using MMA personality Tom Lawlor to running a show at a baseball pitch (a gig picked up after TNA was unable to run the event as they had done in previous years).

John Morrison versus Ricochet? I'm down with that.
But what we can't say about ROH is that they will be the only promotion that offers an alternative to the WWE style. Lucha Underground has done a very good job in its first month of showing that it's a very different prospect in the ring to WWE (although they've fallen into the old heel authority figure trap). They put a strong focus on actual wrestling and promote a style which is significantly different to WWE’s. The storyline’s they’ve presented so far have revolved around the matches, rather than who’s in charge of booking the matches. And it’s also worth noting that everyone who appears has a character.

It's possible TNA will take their move to a new channel as a chance to make some changes. Producer Bryan edwards has already tweeted that "everything" will change and Dixie Carter has wheeled out her staple gimmick of promising big announcements. Usually I'd say these things should be taken with a grain of salt (or a fistful in Dixie's case) but it's too logical for it not to be true here.

Realistically a new logo and a new set, with or without the six-sided ring, are not going to determine TNA's success. What they script and who they sign is going to do that. Unfortunately a change to the writing staff is not something TNA has promised so far, and they’re unlikely to. Presenting something different to WWE and the myriad of other competitors is what's going to attract eyes to a wrestling promotion in 2015.

Of course, to present something different you have to be presenting something to begin with. Which brings us to GFW. Despite being announced on April 7 nothing tangible has actually happened with the company yet. Yeah, they've announced an assortment of partnerships with existing outfits and confirmed that they'll broadcast NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom 9 on pay-per-view but that's not much for nearly eight months’ work. Nor is it anything that makes Global Force look like something other than a glorified streaming service.

GFW cannot become a number two promotion without a lot of work. So much work in fact that it's impossible to envisage it happening from where we are now. There's too little to the company. If GFW manages to get some sort of TV deal and brings together talent from Japan, Mexico, Europe, Canada and the US for extravagant TV tapings and continues to air foreign shows then it could earn itself a following. If it just sticks with the foreign shows then there's no way it will become North America's number two promotion.

As things stand right now the battle for the number two spot is set to be between TNA, ROH and Lucha Underground. TNA has been on a downward spiral over the last four years. It would be nice if that changed with a reboot on Destination America, but going on their track record it’s unlikely. Which would leave Lucha Underground and ROH to vie for the spot. Right now I think ROH has the better position, with a more established name and a niche in the market all their own. But Lucha Underground has everything it needs to grow, and if it gets Alberto Del Rio and Rey Mysterio on its shows in 2015 then the promotion could be a very big deal in a year’s time.

No comments:

Post a Comment